coastal

Alice_Fox_Staithes_to_Runswick

Last week was a working week away from home on the North Yorkshire coast: a week of walking, reading, thinking and developing work towards my Findings exhibition; a week of changing weather, windy cliff-tops, cold fingers on the beach, fossils and falling cliffs, stunning views…

Alice_Fox_limpet_inside upside-down limpets, marks on rocks left by limpets, pebbles and pellets…

Alice_Fox_Staithes_limpet_ring_on_rock

mud underfoot (and half way up the trousers), mud on woven thread, mud trails left by periwinkles at low tide…
Alice_Fox_Staithes_periwinkle_trails

As ever, there are more images here.

amateur naturalist

Alice Fox studio wall collection dec 2015

My favourite book of all time is Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. I have other books by Durrell but a few months ago in a second hand book shop I was pleased to find one to add to my collection: The Amateur Naturalist. If I had had this book as a child I know it would have been a constant companion. I am working my way through it at the moment and enjoying the wonderfully practical instruction and beautiful photography of found items from different habitats.

Amateur Naturalist deciduous woodland

Last week I visited Manchester Museum to see their natural history collection and in particular to look at how their collections are displayed. I didn’t have time to linger and sketch, as I would have liked. But I got a good idea of what is there and hope to go back with more time.

The wall in my studio (shown at the top) where I gather items and samples of current interest is slowly building a new collection. This wall gradually changes as items are added and others might be put away: a constant work-in-progress. It is somewhat like the pages of Durrell’s book, where items are grouped but vary within that group, showing the mix of different things that might be gathered on any one visit to a location. The wall features both found items (natural and man-made) as well as experiments in making. The objects I am developing are responses to found items, not directly copying them but shapes and forms influenced by them and sometimes incorporating found elements. My new collection is forming slowly.

articles

AliceFox_unfinished_detail

I have had interviews and articles published in three places this week. One is here on the lovely Textile Curator website. The second is here and is part of a series of articles where Anne Williams discusses ‘unfinished’ work. Number three is an article in The Quilter, which can be viewed here. This appears in Winter 2015 issue (no. 145) of The Quilter, the quarterly membership magazine of The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles. ‘Moving On’ follows the article I wrote for The Quilter following my bursary from the Quilters’ Guild in 2011.

frugal acts

Alice Fox Notes on the back of an envelope page detail

I’ve been playing about with old envelopes and have made a series of small note books using them.  I’ve always loved the patterns you get on the inside of many envelopes and often keep them ‘just in case’ they might be of use.  Now I’ve found a way of using them and giving them another life.  I’ve enjoyed playing with some of the printed marks on them, deliberately including bits of text, stamps and those little windows that allow you to see the address on the letter inside.

Alice Fox Notes on the back of an envelope inside found text

I’m reading Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees at the moment.  Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a fan of nature writing and there is a pile of such books permanently on my bed-side table, either waiting to be read or ready for me to dip back into a favourite section.  There is a chapter where Deakin describes visiting the artist Margaret Mellis, which I read the other day.  Because he is focusing on trees and wood he is particularly interested in Margaret’s use of driftwood for her sculptures or assemblages. He also describes her drawings made on opened out envelopes and he makes an observation that really struck a chord with me:

Letters, like driftwood and ideas, arrive out of the blue.  They are gifts.  The envelopes, like the driftwood, had a former life, and would generally be discarded.  Mellis gives them new status and a function.  Ingeniously reusing an envelope, or driftwood, to make a picture is, in the context of environmental politics, a deliberately frugal act. Both were once trees, and what would otherwise have been wasted is turned to good use. (p 188).

The phrase ‘a deliberately frugal act‘ has stayed with me since I read it as I know that many of the decisions I make both in my life in general and in my artistic practice are just that.  I am excited by the possibilities of the found or discarded object and see it as a challenge to make use of them.  If by doing so I can reduce the consumption of new materials that is another challenge met.  This doesn’t mean I won’t use new materials but I am always considering carefully how and when I do.

I’m currently preparing for a series of workshops over the next month introducing people to printing and dyeing with rust.  I am gathering collected rusty things as well as a range of materials on which to make our rusty marks.  Fittingly, the first of these workshops next weekend will be held in a salvage yard.  I’ll let you know what we find and how we get on.  If you fancy making some notes on the back of an envelope then the little books are available here.

edgelands

Alice Fox train tracks

I’ve really enjoyed reading Edgelands by Paul Farley & Michael Symmons Roberts: a wonderfully playful mix of observations and poetic writing about those in between places that are not quite city, not quite countryside, not quite classifiable as one thing or another.

in their words:

Somewhere in the hollows and spaces between our carefully managed wilderness areas and the creeping, flattening effects of global capitalism, there are still places where an overlooked England truly exists, places where ruderals familiar here since the last ice sheets retreated have found a way to live with each successive wave of new arrivals, places where the city’s dirty secrets are laid bare, and successive human utilities scar the earth or stand cheek by jowl with one another; complicated, unexamined places that thrive on disregard, if we could only put aside our nostalgia for places we’ve never really known and see them afresh.  (p 10)

Edgelands are constantly shifting and being re-developed.  That’s part of what makes them dynamic, hard to pin down.  Some crop up in pockets close to city centres, where waste ground and industrial decline has offered space for the edgelands to self-seed. (p 213)

When I walk to my studio I go along part of the Leeds Liverpool canal, along the back of industrial buildings, offices, under roads, beside railway.  This is a classic example of an edgeland, an un-cared for piece of land that is pretty much left to its own devices, complete with rubbish, graffiti, weeds, ducks, magpies, blackbirds…  And this is the magic, the wildlife that just gets on with things.  The resilience and sheer bravery of some of the plants you find in these scruffy places, pushing up through cracks and flowering away no matter what, brings an enchantment to these walks and the sudden flit of a long-tailed tit can make my day.

Alice Fox pansies in the cracks

In Robert MacFarlane’s The Wild Places, having visited some of the most remote parts of the UK, he comes to recognise the wild all around him in his local landscape.  This is certainly true for me too.  While the call of the coast is never far from my mind and the lure of remoteness is always tempting, it is the wild of my streets and pathways that keeps me engaged with my landscape on a day to day basis.

Further reading: Weeds, Weeds & Wildflowers

Alice Fox stone and growth

something pretty

do something pretty while you can
Belle and Sebastian

I am always open to opportunities for creating something and this is particularly important when I’m in the middle of a period that doesn’t feel very productive creatively. I love long journeys, especially on a train (as long as it all goes to plan, but even if it doesn’t there is something of an adventure about it when you have to be flexible suddenly as things change).  I love that flashing past of landscape and tiny snapshots of detail.  Sometimes I’ll just let it flow past me and other times I want to record it.

I traveled to London again this weekend to be in the gallery for a day and then take down the Mall exhibition, which, by the way, was a real pleasure to have been involved in.  Spending time alone is refreshing and being away from home somehow forces you to spend time thinking.  

I have a little sketch book in my bag at all times.  This one is a new one and has just words so far (wiggly ones as most were written on a moving train).  Here are some of the words from my journey:


It has been the most sparklingly beautiful of winter days
clear blue sky all day
bright but pale sunshine and a hard frost, which has remained in place all day wherever the sun hasn’t reached.


The almost-setting sun races along on my right
sometimes almost blinding
sometimes obscured from view
by a wall or partially by the filigree network of silhouetted trees.


The shapes of the trees cannot hide in this clear light
each one standing tall and naked and still
shadows cast by the low sun turn an otherwise featureless field into a striking series of ridges


A frozen pond
an abandoned playground
church steeples
church towers
an old windmill tower
all grey silhouettes 
cut out shapes against an only-just blue sky


A solitary small cloud
shaped like a child’s drawing of a horse
now a camel
then some kind of sea creature
is crossed by a small flock of birds.
Where do they go with such purpose on as cold a day as this?


The fiery orange ball slips into the horizon haze
swiftly changing the mood
bleached stubble in disarray over dark earth
Suddenly the clarity is gone
a mist adds to the gathering darkness.


On my return journey it was dark all the way so I couldn’t see out of the window.  Instead I read the whole of a book that I was given for my last birthday but hadn’t opened yet (see the list of books by my bed):  A Bigger Message – Conversations with David Hockney, by Martin Gayford.  I love the fact that you can read a whole book on one journey.  I would never sit and read a book like that at home, always too much else to do.  

David Hockney is someone for whom my admiration and respect grow all the time.  Before moving to Saltaire I knew very little about him and, for me, his work has taken time to ‘get’.  Having a major collection of his work a few minutes walk away from my home means that I’ve been able to get to know it slowly.  He is such an exciting artist who is constantly pushing things.  Inspiring stuff!

>second skin

>When I wrote about India Flint‘s first book Eco Colour here I was asked if I’d like to review the follow up. Great, I thought, then forgot all about it. So when a rather exciting package arrived on my doorstep with this inside I got very excited.


India Flint’s new book Second Skin is a beautiful follow up to her first. It has the same luscious feel, packed with gorgeous photographs and illustrations and has a pleasing mix of practical information, snippets from different cultural traditions and more general anecdotal writing that gives an insight in to India’s colourful life.


Despite its visual appeal some of the content doesn’t make for comfortable reading. India reminds the reader of how poorly informed most of us are about where our clothing is derived from: the fibres and the processes that have gone into the garments that we wrap around our bodies for the majority of our lives. Of course, even if we care about such things it can often be very difficult to find out the history of what we buy and this book highlights the real facts about the systems that our clothes pass through.


There are no straightforward answers and an element of guilt is inevitable in reading parts of chapters 1 to 4. For example, even the fairly well informed may feel they are doing a good thing by buying an organic cotton t-shirt, unaware of the parts of production of that garment that are far from sustainable. Chapter 2, Provenance, is full of cautionary tales and the complicated nature of trying to live in a sustainable way is set out well.


It strikes me that the difficulty of breaking out of the system, stepping off the treadmill, going against the tide means that, even for the well intentioned, practicality means we can’t all do as much as we might hope to. But small changes make a big difference and if this book changes one aspect of behavior in the way each reader sources their clothing those small changes will add up to much more. The all important “have less stuff” is something we all know of as a positive move in living mindfully but how many of us really have the discipline and commitment to live that way? It is always good to be reminded of issues you are already vaguely aware of and have your resolve strengthened periodically.


Chapter 7 gives a short run down of various artists and makers whose work shares principles of sustainability and re-use of materials. This is useful but is almost a starting point for a book in itself.


Chapters 5, 6, 8 and 9 are full of tips and suggestions that I would imagine will give the eco-conscious fashion student much mileage. Chapter 8 on re-purposing is where things got pretty mouth watering for me. All sorts of ideas are given for creating new garments from old and there is scope within these to be really playful. Just like in Eco Colour, there is an undercurrent of useful information that is intended to be used with individuality and in the exploration of personal style. India’s generosity with her experience and skill is huge but she is not prescriptive and it really makes you want to try it all out yourself.


Chapter 10, on dyeing, re-visits the ground covered in Eco Colour but expands on it and, as ever, is a wonderful mix of practical instruction and encouragement to be experimental. The myriad of tips and ideas are ever-useful.


Like the natural dyes that India’s life and work are so wrapped up in, the effect of this book will grow stronger with time: repeated dipping, short periods of immersion, time for absorption are all part of imbuing your life with the sentiments and skills within its pages. It’s certainly re-ignited some slow-burning flames of mine: I’m off to get a few bundles steaming now…

Second Skin, published by Murdoch Books, is available from 1st August.

>eva and anni

>I’ve been reading about Eva Hesse and Anni Albers, seperately, but now together. I’ve had a whole pile of books on Eva Hesse out of the college library for months now and they’ve sat about my house and I’ve been trying to absorb them through osmosis and not actually doing much reading in them. I’ve moved them about occassionally and opened up one or two and read snippets, always meaning to read more and then return them to the library so as not to hog the whole library’s stock of knowledge about this artist!

I was recommended to look at her work during a dissertation tutorial and was immediately transfixed by her strange and beautiful artwork, but also by her intriguing and at times troubled life.

Anyway, I’m finally getting round to some proper reading and this one is fascinating. It has a particular chapter which draws all sorts of parallels between the approaches that Eva and Anni took, connecting their material driven processes and exploration of materiality. There is even a little quote from Sheila Hicks in there too, another big inspiration.

This bit refers to Eva’s use of ‘drawing’ and how her approach crosses over into textile processes, even though she was not seen as working in ‘textiles’:

“… expanded field of drawing – drawing in all its manifestations: as writing and sketching in journals, as tracing with pen and ink, as winding with wire and strips of cloth, as wrapping and binding, as tying knots, as forming webs suspended in space”

Current listening: the pitter-patter of the rain on my skylight in the gathering dusk.

>words of wisdom

>Today I’ve been reading about creativity and approaches to a creative life. I’m finding it fascinating. There are all sorts of little gems I’ve found but in particular I’ve found some of Anni Albers’ words really useful. And I mean useful in a broad, approach to life and approach to artistic practice kind of way (never mind the dissertation!). In her writing I keep coming across inspirational nuggets of wisdom that I could do with pinning up on my notice board, but of course the more you have of those the less you take notice of them.

Here are a couple that deal with the exploration of a material, from On Designing (1971):

Direct experience of a medium – taking it in the hand, learning by working it of its obedience and its resistance, its potency and weakness, its charm and dullness. The material itself is full of suggestions if we approach it unaggressively, receptively.


Freedom can be bewildering; but within set limits the imagination can find something to hold on to. There still remains a fullness of choice but one not as over-whelming as that offered by unlimited opportunities.


And this one is all about the importance of tactility in our relationship with materials, from On Weaving (1965):

We touch things to assure ourselves of reality. We touch the objects of our love
We touch the things we form. Our tactile experiences are elemental.

Current listening: Janacek Woodwind Sextet, Mladi (Youth)